Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
24th Sunday after Pentecost
November 15, 2020
Matthew 25.14-30 – a modern version written by Bob Hilliard
Read by Audrey and Geoff Keating, and Cheryl Campbell
Here is another story Jesus told:
Reader 1: There once was a rich man who owned ‘The Prince’, a store and restaurant in Toronto. He decided to take his family on an extended holiday trip to Australia. So, before he left, he called in his staff at the restaurant and store.
Reader 2: To his chief financial officer, he gave him $5,000 and asked him to look after the money while he was away. To his manager, he gave her $2,000 and asked her to look after the money while he was away. Finally, to the student who was working in the restaurant, he gave her $1,000 and asked her to look after the money while he was away.
Reader 3: The chief financial officer used the $5,000 to buy some supplies which he sold in the store and fortunately was able to make another $5,000. The manager used the $2,000 to hire some staff to increase the size of the restaurant and so was able to make another $2,000. But the student who was given the $1,000 went and put it in his chequing bank account which made no interest.
Reader 4: After a long time, the owner returned and settled account with his staff. The chief financial officer who had received $5,000 said, “Master, you entrusted me with $5,000. I used this to sell more things in the store and made another $5,000.” The owner replied, “Well done, good and faithful treasurer. I will put you in charge of more things in our store.”
Reader 5: The manager who had received $2,000 said, “Master, you entrusted me with $2,000. I used this to expand the restaurant and have made another $2,000”. The owner replied, “Well done, good and faithful manager. I will put you in charge of more things in our restaurant.”
Reader 6: Then, the student who received $1,000 came and said, “Master, I knew you are a firm businessman making lots of money. I didn’t want to lose this money, so I put it in my chequing bank account. Here is your $1,000 back.” The owner replied, “Oh you lazy one. You know that I am a good businessman. You could at least have used it to buy a guaranteed GIC or put it in a high interest savings account. Now off with you. I don’t want you working here anymore.”
If last week’s parable was a Gilbert and Sullivan, this week’s seems to come from George Bernard Shaw. You can imagine the clever dialogue between the master and the three servants. Or as in Bob’s modernized version, the owner, and the chief financial officer, the manager and the student. Shaw would have painted a sympathetic portrait of the anxious student. And the point of the play would have been to make plain the injustice of a world where the rich get richer and the vulnerable stand to lose what little they have. It’s a protest, a tough parable.
Bob’s version softened the blow – the student, precariously employed like so many of her generation, lost her job. But Shaw might have gone as far as the gospel-writer did. In the Matthew version of the parable, the third servant not only forfeits the one talent of gold, but is cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. A really tough parable.
Perhaps this is a lesson from Jesus on one of the painful realities of life – those who succumb to their fear will lose out. And unfortunate as that is, there is something that rings true about it. It’s a cautionary tale. We all have things to be fearful of. Particularly right now, as the covid numbers rise relentlessly, and businesses struggle to survive, and parents begin to foresee more school closures. The anxiety over the American election – that is, the transition to a new President and administration – that anxiety isn’t entirely gone either. We fear for our health, for the wellbeing of the next generation, for the planet. But if our fear causes us to give up, as the third servant in the parable did, we will lose even more. Jesus is saying that a life entirely dominated by fear is a life in hell.
A talent in the Bible refers to a unit of currency, but for us it means an aptitude, or a flair for something. Something you are good at and that brings you pleasure. Traditionally, when we think of this parable, it leads us to the rueful recognition that talents in life are distributed unequally among human beings; that some people are great at math, and others have a wonderful voice, and others are remarkably adept at dealing with other people. In a different way, some are born into wealth, or family warmth, or political stability, while others are not. It seems that there is a random quality to the distribution – you more or less have to take what you get and do your best with it.
Ideally over the course of a lifetime, we have an opportunity to align our talents with our daily life so as to make a contribution to society, and to have the satisfaction of that. The American religious writer Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Figuring out what your talents are and discerning how to use them is perhaps the principal goal of an education. Possibly the principal goal of life.
And it is helpful to consider, here, that living within each of us are all three of the servants. You have your big obvious 5,000 dollar talents like the CFO, and perhaps some medium talents like the manager, and some smaller talents like the student. And while you may have done a good job investing those big obvious talents, and even the medium, perhaps something held you back when it came to the lesser talents you have. Perhaps time, perhaps preoccupation, or perhaps fear of failure. Perhaps your lesser talents are really very meager. As Jesus points out, even the smallest gift should be invested wisely – don’t bury it away, he says. They say that anything worth doing is worth doing well, but it is also true that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. People are finding this, as covid lockdowns bring out new enthusiasm for baking or knitting or gardening. Constrained, people are finding the joy of small accomplishments. Perhaps you have other small gifts of care for others and for the world that deserve to be unburied and put to service. Jesus says, unbury them.
Our faith calls us to offer our whole selves, not just our best selves. The invitation is to live abundantly, all in. And for this we give God thanks. Amen.
Image credit: Micheile Henderson – unsplash.com